- Tomorrow’s re-runs should be a civic celebration to harvest votes, not a barbarous war wasting lives
Twenty-four hours to the Rivers State National Assembly and House of Assembly election re-runs, voided for irregularities in the 2015 general elections, there is heightened anxiety, if not outright angst, in the land. The reason is not far-fetched.
Rivers, in the build-up to the re-runs, has turned a crimson creek from heinous killings. News reports claim no less than 34 have already been slain: beheaded, clubbed to death or burnt, in fearsome violence. That an irate crowd in Omuku, bore aloft the headless remains of Franklin Obi, a local politician, in protest against his cruel decapitation, just epitomises a helpless people traumatised into sheer savagery!
The violence that heralded the voided elections, held in March and April 2015, was hardly better. Indeed back then, opposing partisans, backed with election observer reports, claimed no less than 100 were slain, most of them traced to partisan rage, aided and abetted by the subversion of the state security apparatuses.
Given the unfortunate turn of events, the verdict of the Supreme Court on the Rivers governorship election (voided by the Rivers Election Tribunal and the appellate Court of Appeal, but upheld by the apex court) may have inadvertently legitimised electoral violence. It would appear a classic case of how a court’s application of brute legalism tended to have turned the people involved into near brutes!
But after all said and done, what is the state’s duty tomorrow? Simple: to conduct a peaceful, orderly and, as the cliché goes, free and fair election. It is a moot point however, given the heralding violence, if the election could again be free or fair. This is because of the palpable tension, resulting from the terrible sabre rattling, from both sides of the partisan divide.
The emotive angling of what should otherwise have been a simple and straight-forward election is even more scary. If it is not a tussle for supremacy between incumbent Governor, Nyesom Wike and former Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, both Ikwerre sons, it is dubbed, by the Wike side, an invasion of federal security forces, to “subdue” and “electorally enslave” Rivers people.
Ironically, it was the same “federal invasion”, skewed towards the Wike side, when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was Nigeria’s ruling party, that was responsible for the murderous impunity that turned the polls into an orgy of violence and slaughter, which eventually rendered the results nugatory.
On the other hand, the new All Progressives Congress (APC) Federal Government is framing it as a bounden duty to secure the polls, and make them free and fair. President Muhammadu Buhari’s vow to deal with sponsors of electoral violence in Rivers State, saying it is “primitive, barbaric and unacceptable”, issues from that very logic.
Given the rivers of blood that troubled state has turned into of late, that cannot be unreasonable. Indeed, it is imperative the bloodshed be stanched; and the big sponsors of the partisan violence be arrested, tried and punished according to law.
But what the APC Federal Government cannot afford is slip into the subversion mode of the former Federal Government under President Goodluck Jonathan. It was that government’s willful commission and omission that have snowballed into the present Rivers mess. Rather, it must secure the election with no partisan bias. So, any officer of the law caught aiding or abetting rigging or violence must be apprehended and punished.
It does not matter which side wins the Rivers election. What matters is the process: transparent, free, fair and peaceful. That way, the process wins; and the democratic system is further deepened.
But equally important: every perpetrator of violence, both at the 2015 election and tomorrow’s in Rivers — and elsewhere — must be fingered and lawfully punished. That is the only way to dam the Rivers threatening but steady dissent into savagery and barbarity.